Fast food consumption rate shocks experts

October 6, 2015

A third of US children and teens eat fast food daily, and more than 12% consume nearly half of their daily calories from fast food, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Each day, just over a third of children and adolescents consume fast food, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Within that population, the report notes that 12.1% of children and adolescents obtained more than 40% of their daily calories from fast food; 10.7% obtained 25% to 40% of their calories from fast food; and 11.6% obtained less than a quarter of their calories from fast food. On average, NCHS says children and adolescents obtained 12.4% of their daily calories from fast food items.

Recommended: Do weight report cards work?

Cheryl D Fryar, MSPH, one of the NCHS researchers that compiled the report says a similar study in adults led the team to look at fast food consumption in children. What may be the most surprising, she says, is that fast food consumption did not differ across socioeconomic classes.

A recent Gallup poll backs those findings, revealing that 51% of wealthier Americans, those earning $75,000 or more per year report eating fast food at least weekly compared to 39% of Americans who earn $20,000 per year or less.

Where there was variety, according to the report, was among age brackets and ethnic groups.

Children aged 2 to 11 years consumed about 8.7% of their daily calories from fast food compared with 16.9% in adolescents aged 12 to 20 years, according to the report. Fryar noted that there was no difference in consumption among boys and girls in these age groups.

In terms of ethnic groups, non-Hispanic Asian children and adolescents consumed the fewest fast food calories, at an average of 8% of their daily calories, compared with non-Hispanic whites (13.1%), non-Hispanic blacks (13.9%), and Hispanics (11.2%).

NEXT: What was the difference found with weight status?

 

The report also found no difference in fast food consumption among children and adolescents by weight status, despite the correlation between unhealthy diets and childhood obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the last 30 years. The number of obese children rose from 7% in 1980 to almost 18% in 2012, and rates for adolescents rose from 5% to about 21% over the same period, CDC says.

Childhood obesity increases immediate and future risk factors for development of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, orthopedic problems, sleeping problems, some cancers, stroke, and psychological and social problems, adds CDC. A 2008 report projected that 30% of boys and 40% of girls born in 2000 would develop diabetes mellitus based on obesity trends at the time, and the same report noted that diabetes mellitus accounted for 8% to 45% of new pediatric diabetes cases in the 1990s compared to 4% in previous decades.

Next: Cultivating positive body image

The exact root of the epidemic may be hard to pin down, however, as a number of factors contribute to the problem. A recent study evaluating a fast food ban implemented in South Los Angeles in 2008 revealed that obesity rates have actually increased in the area since the ban was implemented, and in fact are significantly higher than areas outside of the ban.

So although food choices do play a role in childhood obesity, a number of factors are also significant, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Behaviors and habits learned within the culture and household play a large role, therefore modeling of healthy behaviors by parents is a good prevention tool. Schools can also influence healthy eating habits, and NIH and CDC both document trends in schools across the country of limiting unhealthy food choices for students.

Aside from junk food, high sugar and convenient food and beverages are also significant contributors to obesity, with 63% of high school students reporting drinking 1 or more juice drinks daily, and 27% drinking 1 or more sodas per day, according to CDC.

Physical activity also plays a huge role in combating childhood obesity, and the CDC says exercise among children has declined 30% over the last few decades, with a mere 27% of high school students reporting at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, and only half attending physical education classes while in school. However, more than 40% of high school students spent 3 hours or more on a computer, and nearly 33% spent at least 3 hours watching television.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recommends a number of measures to combat childhood obesity, including annual risk screening and body mass index tracking. The AAP and the American Heart Association (AHA) also recommend incorporating variety of food groups into children’s diets beginning at an early age, particularly fruits and vegetables, and whole grain/high-fiber items. The AHA also recommends that parents be advised to not overfeed their children, and to consult daily caloric recommendations for appropriate amounts.

Engaging in physical activity for at least 60 minutes daily is also recommended by a number of leading authorities, including AHA and AAP.